If good NBA teams find ways to win when shots aren’t falling, the Portland Trail Blazers staked a claim to that distinction tonight with their 116-105 victory over the Los Angles Clippers. The Blazers shot just 41% from the field in the game, well down from their 47% average on the season. They still managed to score big and win handily due to a combination of factors: free throws, offensive rebounding, and another otherworldly performance from All-NBA point guard Damian Lillard. The rousing performance pushed Portland to 9-3 on the season, a fantastic start for a team on a heady roll.
If All Else Fails...
The first quarter of the game showed that this would not be a normal “shoot the lights out, score 130, and watch the other team crumble” affair. The Blazers struggled to put points on the board as the Clippers forced them into mid-range shots. The difference-maker in the period: 15 free throw attempts against zero for the Clippers. 14 extra points at the line (Nik Stauskas missed one) gave the Blazers 37 in the quarter while L.A. scored 28.
Three-Pointers Are Your Friend
One place the Blazers found relative success tonight was the arc. Portland shot 10-26 from distance, 38.5%. It wasn’t their best performance of the season...not even close. But those extra points added up in a game the Clippers kept tight until the end.
Paint by the Numbers
One reason the Blazers remained in peril (besides poor shooting) was their inability to defend in the lane. Early on, L.A. got whatever they wanted inside. The Blazers tightened up the defense slightly as the game went on—a decent sign that they’re maturing—but the game was not pretty down low. Montrezl Harrell feasted Slippery guards Lou Williams and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander had their moments too. If Portland has an Achilles Heel so far, this is it. Luckily for them, three-pointers outweigh twos.
Offensive Rebounding Display
The game was still nip-and-tuck through the better part of three quarters when the Blazers flipped a switch and started rebounding like Chris Pratt. The offensive glass became their playground, as L.A. forced misses then proved utterly incapable of following up on the carom. Portland finished with 14 offensive boards for 20 second-chance points, doubling the Clippers’ output in each category.
Damian Lillard is Everything
Even with all the extracurricular lead-wrangling, the Blazers still faced certain moments where they desperately needed a motivational score. Every time, Damian Lillard came through. Gilgeous-Alexander looked good for the Clippers, but Lillard looked like he was auditioning for the starring role in the next Space Jam movie. Repeatedly he’d dive towards the lane with the ball, watch two Clippers defenders jump back to cut off the layup, then pull up for an easy jumper that splashed through the twine. The Clippers might as well have been playing Whack-a-Mole defending Lillard. Every time they thought they had him, he’d pop up somewhere else. He finished with 25 points on 11-25 shooting.
CJ McCollum followed up his 40-point outburst against the Bucks with 23-point effort against the Clippers. He added seven rebounds, two assists and connected on all five of his free throw attempts.
Lillard managed to record 25 points without a single trip to the free throw line. Combined with his 0-0 night against the Bucks, it has been two games since Lillard attempted a foul shot.
Zach Collins was put to the test by Harrell. The second-year big man finished one rebound shy of a double-double, and was crucial to Portland’s final push after Jusuf Nurkic fouled out.
Jake Layman had a quiet night. He played 14 minutes, and only attempted one shot from the field. Due to Layman’s modest workload, Turner received 29 minutes of action (his second highest total of the season).
The Blazers will be looking to extend their current win streak to four games when the Boston Celtics come to town on Sunday.